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The ‘Doc’ Did It His Way At Pocono Raceway

| Contributing Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 16 2011

The spinach is gone and now, so too, are the 500-mile races which 'Doc' Mattioli loved so much at Pocono Raceway. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Bill Fleischman | Senior Correspondent

Dr. Joseph Mattioli has many traits of successful people: he is a complex person – smart, ambitious, forceful, family-oriented and old-fashioned. Did we mention he’s also stubborn?

Several years ago, in a feature story for the Philadelphia Daily News, I noted that Mattioli also is stubborn. One issue he made up his mind on decades ago was that Pocono Raceway’s NASCAR Sprint Cup races should be 500 miles. Mattioli, the raceway’s board chairman and CEO, dismissed appeals from drivers, the media and many fans to shorten Pocono’s races.

Shortly after the Daily News story appeared, during an Eastern Motorsports Press Association Friday night dinner at Pocono Raceway, I felt hands on my shoulders. From behind me I heard a booming voice say “Who are you calling stubborn?”?

When I turned around, there was “Doc” Mattioli looking down and smiling.

This anecdote occurred to me after hearing that Mattioli, a former Philadelphia dentist, was stepping down as CEO of the raceway he guided for more than 40 years. He and his wife Rose, a former podiatrist, are turning over daily supervision of the mountain-top race track to their grandchildren.

Brandon Igdalsky, the track president the past few years, is adding chief executive officer to his resume. Igdalsky’s younger brother Nick will be chief operating officer and executive

'Doc' Mattioli is passing stewardship of Pocono Raceway over to his family. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

vice president. Their sister Ashley will be secretary/treasurer.

The Mattiolis three children – Michelle, Marilouise (better known as “Looie”) and Joe III – will continue serving on Pocono’s executive committee along with Rose and Dave Capone, the track’s accountant. The executive committee oversees all major decisions involving the race track.

Mattioli, 86, says the track will remain in the family for a long time. Years ago Mattioli set up a trust fund that keeps the race track in the family until the grandchildren’s children inherit the facility.

Pocono, Dover and Indianapolis are the only tracks hosting NASCAR Sprint Cup races that aren’t owned by the France family’s International Speedway Corp. or Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc.

My first Pocono race was an Indycar event in ’72. Since then, I’ve covered Pocono’s ups and downs for the Daily News. Doc and I have had a cordial relationship, although “occasionally” he didn’t like my questions. A couple samples:

– After race weekends I would send Mattioli notes with suggestions on ways to make the Pocono experience more comfortable for the media. When Pocono built a new infield media center, I told Doc I would miss the original center when the roof leaked after heavy rains, dampening the copy paper we wrote on with manual typewriters.

Over the phone, Doc’s voice boomed: “For you, Fleischman, we’ll have a guy on the roof (of the new media center) with a hose!”

– Almost every year I’d ask Doc if he planned to shorten Pocono’s 500-mile races.  One year, when I neglected to ask he said, “Aren’t you going to ask me about shortening the races?” “OK,” I said, “are you?” “No!” he emphatically replied.

Less than one week after Doc announced his retirement from the race track Pocono revealed that both its 2012 Sprint Cup races will be shortened to 400 miles. Modesty prohibits excessive celebrating by a certain Philadelphia-based sports writer who has campaigned for shorter Pocono races for years. The earth finally moved on Mount Mattioli.

Doc and Rose met when they were students at Temple University in Philadelphia. During

Joe 'Doc' Mattioli and wife Rose Mattioli took a spinach farm and turned it into a 'Tricky Triangle'. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR)

his retirement press conference, Doc revealed that he and Rose were married while in college.

“Her parents wouldn’t let us get married because we were still undergraduates,” Mattioli recalled. “So I went to Baltimore to get a license. The next week we went to a Catholic church there, but they said they couldn’t marry us because we had to take instruction. So we went around the corner to a Lutheran church. The minister asked if we had a license. When we said yes, he said he could marry us. The minister’s wife was the witness.”

Mattioli said his and Rose’s parents never knew about the original marriage. “After we felt the marriage was going to last, we had a real Italian wedding,” he said, smiling.

Doc is a native of Old Forge, Pa. His father was a professional boxer who fought under the name Pep O’Brien.

For those unfamiliar with how the Mattiolis found their way to the Poconos, in October 1960 Doc decided he was fed up after practicing dentistry. “I decided I wasn’t going to do anything any more unless I enjoyed it,” he said. “I loved (dentistry), I made a lot of money and invested it well, but I was burned out.”

The Mattiolis purchased a spinach farm in the Poconos where the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” race track is located, 90 miles north of Philadelphia and 90 miles west of New York City. They also developed a ski resort and some lakeside areas.

Indy cars, featuring such greats as Mario Andretti, A. J. Foyt and the Unser brothers, were the big show at Pocono in the 1970s until the CART-USAC split. The first NASCAR Cup series race was in 1974. In 1982 Pocono began hosting two Cup races annually.

Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Motorsports Inc., has known the Mattiolis

Jeff Gordon won this year's June race at Pocono. It was one of the last 500-milers to be run at the coathanger-shaped track. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

since McGlynn started at Dover International Speedway in Delaware as public relations director in the early 1970s.

“They are both unique in our world,” McGlynn said. “They totally immersed themselves in the sport back in a time when there was considerable risk. Like us, they went through many tough years and, thanks to who they are, succeeded.

“They’re an all-American story: they were fed up with what they were doing (Rose is a podiatrist) and bought a spinach patch.”

Reflecting on what he has accomplished – Mattioli estimates the family business interests are worth $600 million – he said, “Somebody once told me when you do something to convince 100,000 people to go out of their way to come to your facility you’re doing something right, especially when it’s in the middle of nowhere.”

The Mattiolis are known for their philanthropy. A couple years they donated $1 million to the Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown in appreciation of the care their prematurely born twin granddaughters Madison and MacKenzie received. The hospital is where Bobby Allison also was treated in 1988 following his nearly fatal crash during a race at Pocono. The hospital named its trauma center after the Mattiolis.

Along the way Doc Mattioli knows his direct nature has annoyed people. That’s bound to happen in business dealings. He once said, “I ruffle a lot of feathers, and Rose is there to smooth them out.” Overall though, the Mattiolis have been very good for racing and the Poconos. Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “My Way” is the perfect send off as the Mattiolis back away from daily involvement in Pocono Raceway.

(For more on the history of Pocono Raceway we recommend the recently published “Pocono: NASCAR’s Northern Invasion”, by Joe Miegoc; www.xlibris.com.)

– Bill Fleischman is the auto racing beat writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com

Pocono Raceway still packs 'em on Sprint Cup race days. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

| Contributing Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 16 2011
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